Disclosure: The Cherry Marketing Institute invited me to attend an educational cherry immersion event this week in Traverse City, Michigan, which included all of my travel and lodging expenses. I was not compensated for my time, nor was I asked to write this post. All comments and opinions are my own.
As a dietitian, self-proclaimed foodie, former food editor and all around semi-well educated lady of the moment, I really thought I knew most of what there was to know about cherries:
What else is there?
Oh Regan… how simple your mind works.
So here’s the deal. You know how you
save money for anticipate those pretty, sweet summer cherries… and when they’re not available, you opt for dried or frozen. And you love them, and think “hey… these are just those fresh cherries I like that have been dried.” And then you grab a container of yogurt that has cherries and think the same thing….
You do that, right?
The dried cherries we scoop up by the bag all year round (or for those of us who are lucky enough to find them frozen in our supermarkets) are, for the most part, “tart” cherries. “Montmorency” cherries, to be exact. What I learned this week was that these wonderful little nutritional gems (see info below) are so fragile that they just can’t survive the road it would take to get them to market (Tart cherries have an extremely high water content, which doesn’t bode well with a lot of fresh handling.)
So what happens is that 99.9% (give or take a tenth of a percent… I don’t proclaim to be a statistician) of the tart cherries grown in the U.S.. are processed and actually end up on your plate or in your glass as either dried, frozen, juice or juice concentrate.
Now, if you’re thinking to yourself… “But aren’t I supposed to avoid ‘processed’ food?” I like the way you’re thinking. Because it provides me the perfect opportunity to point out what an oversimplification of nutrition science this notion of “no processed foods” is.
While yes, it is best to avoid foods that have the fiber stripped from them, a lot of sugar and fat add to them, or any other manner of treatments that make them high in calories and void of nutrition, this isn’t one of those cases. Sometimes, the benefit of “processing” a food outweighs the negative of it not being in its natural form.
Bottom line: unless you live on one of the upper peninsula’s of Michigan, you’re simply not going to be able to enjoy tart cherries any other way.
So why should you be concerned about enjoying tart cherries year round? Why not just travel to Traverse City once a year like I did a gorge yourself on everything cherries and call it a day.
Because tart cherries have reportedly the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food. In fact, they may help
athletes reduce muscle damage to recover faster AND help people with osteoarthritis.
In one study, adults who drank cherry juice
slept longer and better than people who drank a cherry flavored drink (Tart cherries are one of the few natural food sources of melatonin. Cool huh?)
Tart cherries may reduce the risk of gout attacks by up to 35 percent, according to researchers at Boston University (and if you think gout is just your uncle’s disease, think again. An estimated 8.3 million Americans suffer from this debilitating illness).
Most importantly, they taste damn good and make everything around them taste good (No. Really. Tart cherries are a natural MSG-like flavor enhancer without all the funky side effects).
Need a few more reasons to be sweet on tart cherries? Try these fun facts:
Cherries are shaken from the tree and harvested into water
An average tree yields about 80 to 100 pounds
Cherries are ready to harvest about 60 days from full bloom
It’s typically 5 years after a new orchard is planted that it produces fruit (Thank heavens for patient farmers!)
90% of the tart cherry industry produces Montmorency cherries
The land that tart cherries are grown in isn’t good for much else. It’s glacier land. Rocky and sandy.
If the cherry in your ice cream bleeds it’s color, it’s a naturally colored cherry. If it doesn’t, it may have been bleached and colored (Us Americans and our need for perfect looking food. Cut it out folks)
94% of the tart cherries that are gown here in the U.S.. are eaten here (Yay for home grown food!)
The average person eats about 1lb of cherries per year (I may need to check my numbers here. This seems awfully low for me and my cherry love)
Anthocyanins #1 and #2 are unique compounds to cherries. These are the compounds that have anti inflammatory and analgesic properties (Hence the help with muscle recovery and soreness). Tart cherries have higher amounts of these compounds than sweet cherries.
Tart cherries are one of the few food sources of natural melatonin (I’ve told you this once, but I think good sleep is so elusive for many of us, it’s worth repeating)
Want more inspiration to incorporate tart cherries in your recipes, check out these amazing recipes from Healthy Aperture contributors:
Hazelnut Crusted Trout by vintagemixer